It was a nightmare start. And it almost preceded a dream comeback.
But that, too, turned into a horror of mistakes that eventually cost Washington the game.
New Orleans beat Washington, 43-27 in front of 80,768 fans, dropping the Redskins to 2-3. Rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey made his first start a memorable one: for the Saints (5-1). They picked him off four times, sacked him seven times and harassed him all day. He finished 21 of 43 for 320 yards and one touchdown. This after a memorable first relief appearance against Tennessee the previous week.
But the rookie had his share of culprits in the debacle.
The Redskins' special teams chipped in by allowing two returns for touchdowns, both to Michael Lewis. The first came on a kickoff return, a 90-yarder after Washington had scored its first touchdown. And the second came on an 83-yard punt return, giving the Saints a 15-point third-quarter lead.
Washington also committed 11 penalties.
''It's pitiful to watch us play right now,'' Redskins coach Steve Spurrier said. ''We've got to make changes if we play [like this]. And we looked like a poorly coached team. Until we get a consistent effort in discipline and responsibility, we'll struggle all year.''
Spurrier vowed to make changes if the struggles to continue. Thing is, he didn't say where. Guard Wilbert Brown, making his first start, certainly would be a candidate. He subbed for injured David Loverne and allowed several pressures and at least two sacks.
But Brown wasn't much worse than Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, who allowed three sacks to end Darren Howard. New Orleans finished with an unofficial 20 pressures. For Howard, it was a chance to face Samuels, whom he had hoped to play against in a college all-star game coming out of college. Samuels, though, missed the game.
Howard made the most of his first chance. And it led to numerous problems by Ramsey.
''Anytime you get pressure on a rookie quarterback, he's going to give you some plays and he threw up the ball a lot of times,'' Howard said. ''I couldn't believe how many times we were picking him off.''
Samuels said, ''We had to protect Patrick and we didn't get that done. At times it can get rough out there.''
The special teams could use some changes, too. Lewis, filling in for the injured Fred McAfee, scored on a 90-yard kickoff return in the second quarter and an 83-yard punt return in the third. He was untouched each time.
Both were damaging, though the punt return seemed to deflate Washington even more, giving the Saints a 36-21 lead.
''That was just very poor coverage,'' Spurrier said. ''There were a bunch of guys who didn't look concerned with busting their butts.''
The secondary had its rough moments, two to be exact. Strong safety Sam Shade played a role in two deep passes. On one, Shade bit on a pump fake by quarterback Aaron Brooks, allowing Lewis to get free for a 58-yard pass on third and 12 with 37 seconds left in the half, leading to a field goal and 29-21 halftime lead.
And Shade played a poor zone on another long play, allowing the receiver to get behind him while corner Fred Smoot was getting burned. The result: a 41-yard pass to receiver Joe Horn. Two plays later New Orleans scored on a 31-yard pass to Jake Reed for a 43-21 lead. If any doubt remained, this erased it.
''We have to play smarter in the secondary,'' Spurrier said.
But at least the defense had played well most of the game, despite getting stuck in one bad spot after another.
Last week, Ramsey played well against the Titans, standing in the pocket and finding lanes where he could step up and throw. Those lanes weren't available Sunday. He was hit on his first pass and it fluttered high in the air. Linebacker Charlie Clemons dropped it, however.
No matter. On the next play Ramsey tried to hit Rod Gardner with a pass, but safety Jay Bellamy was waiting and intercepted the ball, returning it to the Redskins' 5-yard line.
Washington's defense forced New Orleans to settle for a 21-yard John Carney field goal. Ramsey then threw an interception on second and 10 from his 23, getting hit as he threw. Again the defense held the Saints to a field goal.
After running back Stephen Davis' fumble ended the next series--leading to a two-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Brooks to tight end Boo Williams--Ramsey's bad day continued. Bellamy picked him off again, returning it to the Redskins' 18. The Saints turned that gift into a Brooks to Joe Horn 17-yard touchdown pass.
Last week, Ramsey ended with a quarterback rating of 103.6. Sunday, it was 42.8. If not for Saints drops, Ramsey might have thrown another four interceptions. New Orleans did nothing fancy, though it didn't blitz as much as it normally does. The Saints didn't need to.
''Tennessee didn't have time to prepare for him,'' Bellamy said. ''We did. He's a young guy and we tried to mix everything up to try and confuse him a little bit so he couldn't be so precise. We tried to keep him off-balance.''
But Ramsey, and the Redskins, recovered as the offense finally settled down.
Ramsey recovered, however, and finished strong. He led Washington on a 75-yard scoring drive--after having an interception nullified by a penalty. But Ramsey connected with receiver Rod Gardner for a 23-yard gain, looking off the safety and throwing back to his right.
A sack lost eight yards, but rookie running back Ladell Betts ran 40 yards with a screen to the left, reaching the New Orleans' 5. Two plays later Davis scored from the 1 on a pitch around left end, receiving a strong block from tight end Walter Rasby against corner Ken Irvin.
After Lewis' kickoff return for a score, Ramsey led another drive, starting from his own 19. He completed passes of 18 yards to Derrius Thompson, 12 to Gardner, 16 to Jacquez Green and 23 more to Green to the 1. Ramsey snuck over on second down.
Washington safety Ifeanyi Ohalete turned in the play that left the players thinking they would win. He jumped in front of receiver Jerome Pathon at the Saints' 22 and returned the pass 78 yards for a touchdown and 26-21 deficit with 1:47 left in the half.
''At that time, I definitely thought we'd come up with the win,'' Ohalete said.
''His touchdown made us feel like we were destined to win,'' Doering said.
They weren't. New Orleans added a field goal before halftime, then pummeled Ramsey in the second half, hitting him on seemingly every pass. He managed one touchdown pass: a 62-yard screen to running back Kenny Watson for their last score midway through the fourth quarter. The Saints made sure Ramsey left the game bruised.
''Once a lion smells prey, he's got to attack,'' Saints defensive tackle Grady Jackson said.
And the Redskins allowed New Orleans to attack. In the past two home games, Washington has been outscored by a combined 80-34.
''You can't let someone slap you around and eat your food and walk away like nothing happened,'' Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington said. ''You've got to fight and guard your home. . . . I don't look at it like a bad game. Even with everything that happened, we still could have won.''